How To Prepare For Grad School In [y]: Prospective Graduate Student Guide - CRUSH Your Graduate Exams (2023)

By Bryce Welker / February 1, 2023

By Bryce Welker Updated: February 1, 2023 You’re our #1 priority.
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How To Prepare For Grad School In [y]: Prospective Graduate Student Guide - CRUSH Your Graduate Exams (1)

Students who plan on applying to graduate school should begin thinking about and preparing for the application process as soon as possible. While the undergraduate degree and graduate school often share some commonalities, graduate programs are more likely to require the applicant to demonstrate a level of professional experience.

Grad schools also generally have a far lower total enrollment, which means that each applicant undergoes intense scrutiny. In some cases, finalist applications may be considered by an admissions committee. This makes acceptance much more challenging.

So, you’ll need a plan.

You’ll need to gather all necessary documents, submit solid applications, and prepare for program interviews. This is why so many students hire a graduate school consultant to help with the grad school process.

Ready to make a move?

Here is a rundown of what applying to grad school can look like and how to best prepare for it. We’ll cover what you’ll need and how to get it, as well as some information about how some graduate programs differ from others.

Let’s cover the most important things to know.

The Ideal Time For Applying To Graduate School

The actual application and consideration process for many graduate schools can take a year or more. For those considering applying to grad school for a fall 2025 enrollment; the application process should be started no later than about May of 2024.

If standardized test scores are required for the specific graduate program, begin taking practice versions at least 90 days before the official test date. For example, many programs require you to take the graduate record exam (GRE) to be accepted.

A typical timeline looks something like this:

Standard Requirements For Grad School Applications

While the requirements for each graduate program will be unique to that particular school, there will be many common elements to graduate admissions.

Minimum GPA

Even with the move towards a more holistic evaluation and consideration of applicants to graduate school, GPA remains an incredibly influential factor in graduate admissions evaluations. The minimum GPA is generally 2.5 for most master’s degree programs.

Bachelor’s Degree and Transcripts

Any master’s programs, such as MBA programs, will require their applicants to be bachelor’s degree holders. Additionally, many programs require that the applicant hole not only a bachelor’s degree but one that has accreditation from a particular organization.

Prospective graduate students will need to submit official transcripts for all postsecondary education. While undergraduate degree programs will generally contact schools for transcripts, graduate students will need to have copies of their transcripts on hand.

Professional Experience

Many graduate schools focus on building upon an existing knowledge base, which means having relevant professional experience and enough of it. Depending on the school, the average graduate degree program will require at least 1-2 years of work in the field of study. Research experience can sometimes substitute for professional experience.

Grad School Application

How To Prepare For Grad School In [y]: Prospective Graduate Student Guide - CRUSH Your Graduate Exams (2)

Part of the grad school application will be a traditional application form. While a common element for nearly all graduate schools, there is also no standard application, and each particular school creates its ideal application.

Common elements of the application will be residency proof, information about academic history & transcripts, and generally, the names and contact information for some personal references.

Financial Aid Application

You’ll want to apply for financial aid during your grad school process. This usually starts with filling out the FAFSA. Even if you think you won’t receive need-based aid, applying anyway is a good idea. The FAFSA process can help you qualify for special loans with low-interest rates. These aren’t always based on financial need.

Standardized Test Scores

Many graduate degree programs will require applicants to have standardized test scores on file. These can be MCAT, LSAT, GMAT, or even GRE scores. Additionally, non-native English speakers will need additional proficiency demonstrations before gaining acceptance.

Not sure which graduate school exam you need to take? Look to your top schools of choice for their requirements.

Once you’ve narrowed down your list of entrance exams, you might consider enrolling in a GRE test prep program.

Preparing For Grad School: Other Things to Consider

Before you start applying to grad schools, you will need considerable preparation. Here are some tips on getting crucial elements together for your grad school application.

Letters Of Recommendation

How To Prepare For Grad School In [y]: Prospective Graduate Student Guide - CRUSH Your Graduate Exams (3)

Letters of recommendation can help set you apart in the grad school admission process. These letters should be written by someone who knows the applicant well academically.

For this reason, former or current professors are good choices. Managers at work and volunteer supervisors are also good choices.

Most grad schools will require 2-3 letters of recommendation from potential students. Make sure you give your sources plenty of time to write the letters, at least a few weeks. You don’t want to rush them, so make sure you plan ahead.

Personal Statements

Personal statements are often one of the things that causes the most anxiety for students. The personal statement is a short essay, typically 500-700 words, and is a chance for the admissions committee to learn more about the applicant as a person.

Here are some common personal statement writing prompts that universities use:

  • Introduce yourself to the committee. Share details such as what made you, who you are, and what sets you apart.
  • What challenge have you faced, and how have you grown from it?
  • Please share how you’ll become involved at the university and how your background, interests, and special talents will add to our community.
  • Discuss an accomplishment or event that led to personal growth.

Grad students who hire a graduate school consultant to help with their application process do so because they need help with creating their personal statement.

Additionally, there may be different admissions requirements for different grad schools.

For example, many grad schools require prerequisite testing for specific programs, such as the medical college admission test, the law school admission test, or the graduate management admission test.

Graduate Degree Interviews

Even though it may not be a requirement of the grad school, making a campus visit can help make a better impression on the admissions staff. That said, many grad school programs will allow interviews via common videoconferencing platforms.

There are definitely dos and don’ts to interviewing, so make sure that you brush up on these. You might even consider a mock interview!

A Note About Advanced Degrees

Grad students who have career goals that include the pursuit of an advanced degree, such as doctoral programs or Ph.D. programs, must also prepare for more rigorous applications.

Most students will need to meet basic GPA requirements as part of the application to an advanced degree graduate program. These are commonly 2.5 for master’s degree programs and 3,0+ for Ph.D. and similar doctoral programs.

Sufficient Preparation Can Make Grad School Application Simpler

Grad students are recipients of intensive investment of time and resources by those running the grad programs, and as such, they should be able to demonstrate themselves worthy.

By taking the time to fully understand the graduate school application process, preparing effective application materials, and submitting them well ahead of the deadline, prospective students have far better chances of being counted amongst grad school’s current students.

Not sure where to begin? Let an expert help you through the process.


How long does it take to prepare for graduate school?

Depending on what you have and what you need, the time it can take to prepare can vary significantly. In general, applicants should begin their preparations at least a full year before the expected application window. This is enough time to get letters, transcripts, and anything else that may be needed, like registering for tests.

How hard is it to get accepted into grad school?

The most influential factor in answering this is going to be what grad schools are being applied to and what the acceptance rate is for each one. Some programs are far more exclusive and competitive than others and are much harder to get into without incredibly impressive applications.

What Is A Decent GPA For Grad School?

We’ve discussed the minimum GPA needed, but what is an ideal GPA for applying to grad school? Of course, higher is better, but the answer will depend heavily on how competitive or exclusive the graduate study program is.
Having a GPA that is greater than 3.0 is a start. However, more competitive environments, like medical schools, business schools, and similar graduate studies, will need GPAs of 3.5-4.0.


How To Prepare For Grad School In [y]: Prospective Graduate Student Guide - CRUSH Your Graduate Exams (4)

Bryce Welker

Bryce Welker is an active speaker, blogger, and regular contributor to Forbes,, and where he shares his knowledge to help others boost their careers. Bryce is the founder of more than 20 test prep websites that help students and professionals pass their certification exams.


How do I study for a graduate school exam? ›

Follow these tips to do your best on your graduate school exams.
Before the test
  1. Attend all classes, listening attentively, taking good notes, and participating in classroom activities and discussions.
  2. Complete all assigned reading.
  3. Study and review your notes regularly.
  4. Meet with other students for a study group.

How do you stand out as a grad school applicant? ›

  1. Your fit with the department or program in terms of research goals, work culture, or other measures.
  2. Relevant research or internship experience.
  3. Statement of purpose.
  4. Letters of recommendation.
  5. Undergraduate grades.
  6. GRE scores.
  7. Patterns of academic study and relevance of prior coursework to proposed graduate study.

How can I maximize my chances of getting into grad school? ›

Here are eight steps you should take to gain admission to your top-choice graduate programs, regardless of your undergraduate GPA.
  1. Know the requirements. ...
  2. Talk to the faculty. ...
  3. Complete additional coursework. ...
  4. Pursue relevant field experience. ...
  5. Publish in your subject. ...
  6. Use your statement of purpose.

How many hours should you study in grad school? ›

Plan to spend approximately 3X the time of in-classroom instruction on studying while in graduate school. A normal course load of 9-12 credits per semester equates to 27-36 hours of graduate school study time per week. There are many variables, however, that can change your graduate school study schedule.

What is the exam you must pass to get into graduate school? ›

Graduate schools frequently require specific standardized test scores as part of your application. The Graduate Record Examination (GRE) is required for many graduate programs, but there are a variety of specialized tests for different academic fields.

How long are grad school exams? ›

Most graduate schools in the United States require the Graduate Record Exam or GRE. This is a 4-hour exam. The test, broken down into three sections, measures quantitative reasoning, analytical writing, and verbal reasoning skills.

How many hours a day should a grad student study? ›

Although it's not unreasonable to spend 6-8 hours a day studying in graduate school, once you know how to learn effectively and efficiently, you can get more done in a limited amount of time. A common habit of all successful people is a certain amount of organization and planning.

Do most people work while getting their masters? ›

Yes, it's possible to work and do a master's degree at the same time. 76% of graduate students work at least 30 hours a week, according to a report from Georgetown University's Center on Education and the Workforce.

How many hours is a typical master's degree? ›

Most Master's degree programs require 40 hours of credit. A few schools do not require as many hours.

What does a good personal statement look like for grad school? ›

Pick a few points to emphasize about yourself.

Introduce yourself to the admissions board. Select key factors about your background that you want the university to know — elements that reveal what kind of person you are and demonstrate why you're a strong candidate for the school and field of study.

How can I impress my grad school interview? ›

Tips for Grad School Interviews
  1. Research the university.
  2. Brush up your interview skills. ...
  3. Prepare a list of questions that you can ask the interviewer(s).
  4. Call the grad school for appointment confirmation. ...
  5. Dress appropriately.
  6. Show up with confidence.
Feb 27, 2023

How do you convince a university to accept you? ›

  1. Earn Good Grades in Challenging Courses. ...
  2. Get a High SAT/ACT Score. ...
  3. Write a Compelling Personal Statement. ...
  4. Demonstrate Interest. ...
  5. Secure Strong Letters of Recommendation. ...
  6. Apply to a Diverse Selection of Colleges. ...
  7. Opt for an Early Admission Plan. ...
  8. Manage Your Online Reputation.

What is the ideal GPA for grad school? ›

A good GPA is often considered to be at least a 3.0, although most graduate programs and graduate school require a minimum GPA of 3.5 for admission. The highest GPA you can achieve is a 4.0, so having an overall GPA at or above this level is what's usually considered a good GPA.

What do grad schools look at most? ›

Many worry about on-paper credentials such as test scores, GPAs, and awards. While those are certainly important details, many graduate schools prefer applicants who have relevant experience, clearly defined academic and professional goals, and a track record of showing genuine interest in their chosen field.

What is a good GPA to maintain in grad school? ›

Most top-ranked graduate programs typically prefer a GPA of 3.5 or better. Exceptions to this rule occur, of course, but many students give up their quest to attend graduate school due to a low (3.0 or less) GPA.

How many letters of recommendation do you need for grad school? ›

Recommendation Letters. Most graduate schools require 3 letters of recommendation. However, you should double-check how many each school requires, and do NOT send more than asked for. Sending too many letters or information not requested by the school, can actually HURT your candidacy.

How difficult is graduate school? ›

Graduate school is intensive, career-focused, and can at times seem like a more difficult version of college. It presents new challenges that students did not experience in undergraduate studies, as well as some familiar hurdles that get reintroduced. Grad school can be equally fulfilling and challenging for students.

How hard is it to get accepted into graduate school? ›

Not only is it important for applicants to have competitive gpas, but they must also have a high enough GRE score to be considered. Grad schools typically have an acceptance rate of around 15%, so there is a chance that even with impressive qualifications, an applicant will still get rejected.

How old is the average grad school graduate? ›

How Old is the Average Graduate Student? The average age of graduate students is somewhere between 29 and 33 years old depending on the country. A graduate student is anyone who is pursuing a higher level of education beyond the traditional college experience.

How many classes per semester for Masters? ›

In this traditional model, you most likely need to take on a full-time course load of 12 credit hours per semester to complete a master's degree in 2 years. For working adults, spending 36 hours per week in class and completing coursework outside of class isn't possible.

Are masters programs harder than undergrad? ›

Even though you may have been somebody who spent ample time studying during your undergraduate degree, the work in graduate school is often more intensive and more time-consuming.

Is the graduate record examination hard? ›

GRE is one of the most difficult standardized tests used in comparing students joining the graduate school. What makes the GRE tricky is the reading and vocabulary sections. Notably, math problems in the GRE will evaluate your critical thinking relative to math skills.

How do I prepare myself for graduate school? ›

Preparing for Graduate School
  1. assess your level of interest.
  2. identify the skills and education you need to launch your career.
  3. relate and apply your studies to actual work and professional settings.
  4. acquire new knowledge and skills.
  5. gain hands-on experience relevant to your area of interest.

Do graduate schools look at test grades? ›

The graduate school admissions process is not always transparent, but a successful application will typically include the following: Undergraduate transcripts, including course grades. Graduate school test results (usually the GRE, although some fields have their own specialized exams)

What is the hardest part of the GRE? ›

While each section of the GRE is difficult in its own way, the Quantitative Reasoning section poses a unique challenge for many students. A lot of this section's content covers high school mathematics principles, such as: Geometry. Arithmetic.

Why is the GRE so hard? ›

GRE is typically considered more complex than other tests like SAT or ACT. The reason being its more challenging vocabulary and reading sections. Most of the questions asked in the test require you to have a higher level of reasoning skills.

What type of math is on the GRE? ›

properties and types of integers, such as divisibility, factorization, prime numbers, remainders and odd and even integers. arithmetic operations, exponents and roots. concepts such as estimation, percent, ratio, rate, absolute value, the number line, decimal representation and sequences of numbers.

What do graduate schools look for? ›

Many worry about on-paper credentials such as test scores, GPAs, and awards. While those are certainly important details, many graduate schools prefer applicants who have relevant experience, clearly defined academic and professional goals, and a track record of showing genuine interest in their chosen field.

When should you start preparing for grad school? ›

Gearing up for graduate school starts early— as soon as your freshman year. But even if you're well along in your undergraduate studies, or already graduated, it's not too late to develop a plan. Applying to graduate school is more than completing an application.

What is a failing grade in grad school? ›

Graduate Grading System
GradeNumeric EquivalentExplanation
C-74-76Lowest Passing Grade. The student's accomplishment, while passing in most courses, is deficient. Minimum requirements have been met but without distinction.
FLess than 74Failure.
13 more rows

Which GPA do grad schools look at? ›

While graduate admissions committees don't necessarily disregard other grades, generally, they consider your major Grade Point Average or GPA a better representative of your grades. Graduate schools are mainly concerned about you completing the graduate program.

What GPA do you need for grad school? ›

A good GPA is often considered to be at least a 3.0, although most graduate programs and graduate school require a minimum GPA of 3.5 for admission. The highest GPA you can achieve is a 4.0, so having an overall GPA at or above this level is what's usually considered a good GPA.


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